So, you have decided to get a bird dog.... You are about to embark on one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things in life. To quote George "Bird" Evans, "Having bird dogs you instill your life to a succession of short lives, each of them a dogs. From each you learn a little of the joy of living. Observing his inexhaustible enthusiasm; his eagerness that makes each day the more significant for being a day in a life so short. You watch the pup grow out of him as he becomes more serious, but there is always a good natured disposition and his faith in you. There are people who have children in hope of having someone to be there at the end. For your dog it is only you who are there when that time comes, a right thing; for it puts you in the position of doing something for him after he has done so much for you."
Owning bird dogs will give you an unmeasurable amount of happiness. It is a lifelong commitment that you should be prepared for. The bottom line is it is not for everyone. Before committing to owning one of these dogs there are a few things to consider. The first thing you should know is both the German Shorthaired Pointer and the Working English Cocker Spaniel are HIGH energy bird dogs. They are not like your old lab that will chase a tennis ball a few times and then pass out on the couch. They are ready to run from sun up to sun down regardless of how much you work them. That being said, taking the time to exercise them will make their and your life immensely more enjoyable. If you do not give them adequate exercise and stimulation they will be destructive and exhibit undesirable behavior. Again, owning these types of dogs is not for everyone. You need to be willing to commit time and energy to them because they deserve it. If you get a pup from us and decide it is not for you, we will take them back no questions asked. We would much rather find them the right home, then put them in a situation in which they are not getting what they need. Here are a few things that help us with using up that energy:
Hunting – Hunting families will always get first priority for our pups. This is what they were born to do. It is their genetic predisposition and they are happiest when they are in the field.
Club Events – Hunt tests, field trials, etc. These events mimic hunting situations. They are the culmination and verification of a lot of training and work. The dogs love going to these events and competing. The best part about these events is the network that you create going to them. You will meet some really great people and spend countless hours training to prepare for these events. If you are not a hunter, this is a great way to get your dog involved in activities that will use their genetics. It can be very competitive and a lot of fun.
Training – This is a lifelong process. Spending 10-15 minutes a day, once or twice a day, goes a long way. Not only are you learning the pup new skills, but you are providing crucial metal stimulation that will burn up some of that excess energy. We will have a lot more information forthcoming about training. We will share the methods that work for us and describe some of our successes and failures in future blog posts.
Exercise – There are a lot of ways to accomplish this. Having a big fenced in yard is great, but not entirely necessary. Our breeds of dog are great to take running or on long walks with you. They can also be trained to run alongside of a bicycle. They will have no issue keeping pace. They are also great dogs to take to the dog park. If socialized properly, both breeds are great with other dogs and enjoy playing in a controlled and monitored environment. Really, any activity that you do in the out of doors, (hiking, swimming, running, biking, ect.) these dogs will love to do with you.
Metal Stimulation – One of the best ways to accomplish this is through training, but it should be the type of training in which the dog feels like there are benchmarks that they can achieve to get a reward. They have to be able to be a winner and know how to win. Interacting with the dog in this way is a lot of fun and extremely rewarding. It is a really neat experience to watch a dog think and finally “get it”. Again, we will have more on that in upcoming posts. Another way to provide mental stimulation is through puzzle toys. This type of toy requires the dog to work to get a reward. These can be great as long is the pup is supervised while using them.
Another thing to consider when owning these dogs is the propensity for injury. Not saying that they are injury prone or clumsy, but it is the nature of the work they will be doing. This is something you should mentally prepare yourself for. If you are working these dogs in the way that is intended, at some point you will have to deal with an injury. This can lead to costly vet bills and treatments. This is something every dog owner should consider, but often goes unplanned. You should know where your local vet clinic is and their hours of operation. You should also be familiar with their capabilities and limitations. You should know where the closest 24-hour emergency clinic is and their capabilities and limitations. If you travel with your dogs, you should research the clinics and emergency vets where you are going and those along the way. You should carry a basic medical kit for your dog and know basic medical care, such as treating wounds or administering medications like Benadryl. You should have some form of funding set aside to deal with these injuries and expenses should they arise. This can be an insurance plan, savings account, credit card, etc. Establishing a good relationship with your Veterinarian is also a great idea. Keep them apprised to the types of activities that you are doing with your dog so they can better treat them. Also, ask them to teach you those basic medical care items if you don’t know how to do them. You may be surprised how much they can help you and how much of a benefit establishing that relationship can be.
Food cost is something else every aspiring dog owner should be cognizant about. If you want your dog to perform well and live a healthy life you should be willing to invest in a premium dog food. This food can cost anywhere from $1-3 per pound. A typical Working English Cocker Spaniel can eat roughly ¾-1 ½ pounds of food per day. A German shorthair can eat roughly 1.5-3 pounds per day. Both of which depend on size and activity level. We spend an average of $70 a month on dog food for a GSP and an average of $35 a month for an English cocker Spaniel. I am not looking to go down the rabbit hole of what dog food you should use, but for thought provocation sake we feed Purina Pro Plan Sport at a little over $1 a pound. This is a discussion worth having as most people do not consider these additional costs of dog ownership.
Another consideration to take into account about these breeds is the environment they enjoy. These dogs love to be outside. This does not mean that you need to own a farm, several acres, or even a backyard, but you have to be willing to give them time outdoors and afield. With those outdoor adventures come additional responsibilities that a new owner may not be aware of. After every trip afield, the dog will have to be thoroughly inspected for injuries, insects, and other hitchhikers. You will need to go over them to make sure they didn’t hurt themselves. This includes checking their paws, toes, eyes, ears, and mouth. You will need to check them for ticks and other insects that like to latch on to dogs and cause problems. You will need to go over their coat and remove any plant material or briars that have taken to them. You will need check between their toes and in their armpits for cockleburs and stickseed. You will check their eyes and nose for seeds that can cause irritation or infection. You will need to clean their ears after any time afield and also on a weekly basis. You will do all of this before you leave the field and upon returning home you will end up bathing them as well. Again, this is a responsibility that new dog owners may not consider. It can take just as much time to clean them up as it did to let them run in the field. It is a time consuming yet necessary process to ensure the health and safety of your pet.
Lastly, these dogs are bred to be bold. They can be stubborn at times and will test you. You have to assert dominance and be the pack leader to handle them properly. This can be challenging at times for any owner with any level of experience. The biggest thing to remember is every opportunity is a training opportunity. There is no punishment, only correction of an inappropriate response or behavior. Corrections should only be pursued if the dog knew the task it was being asked to perform. If It didn’t, then it is not the dogs fault, but yours as an owner. If you ever find yourself in a bad mood or angry, stop the training session and go back to it another time. They will remember everything you teach them both good and bad. Most of all, these dogs are extremely loyal and very affectionate. They want to be around you and they want to make you happy. These are not the types of dogs you stick in a kennel and forget about until you want to hunt. They thrive when they develop a bond with you and will work harder for you if spend the time with them. They can be the crazy driven bird dog during the day when afield and be the cuddle bug at night with your kids. If you let them in your life and form that bond you will enjoy a great life with them by your side. As always, if you have any doubt or further questions about our breeds, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Thanks for reading.